Devastated farmers to dig mass graves
The sky may be clearing and devastating floodwaters in Queensland's northwest may finally be receding but the better weather is creating an entirely new problem for the state's cattle farmers.
Up to 500,000 cattle are estimated to have died over the past two weeks in what's been labelled a national disaster.
If the cattle didn't drown or freeze to death in the elements, devastated farmers were forced to fly around in helicopters and kill thousands of drought-stressed animals. The situation is so terrible that there are reports the farmers have run out of bullets.
As cattle farmers across the state brace for three years without any income, they're also racing against time to dispose of the hundreds of thousands of dead animals to limit the spread of disease.
Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner is on his way to the northwest with a team of biosecurity experts and the army to figure out the best way to dispose of the dead.
"The disposal of carcasses is paramount at present. As it heats up it is becoming a biosecurity matter."
Experts are considering mass burial pits as the best option for Queensland's farmers with the defence force also in talks to bring in appropriate machinery.
"We are working with our partner agencies, including the Australian Defence Force, to develop plans for the appropriate disposal of deceased livestock," Queensland's chief veterinary officer Dr Allison Crook said.
"In most cases that is going to look like a burial in a pit. However, the disposal is often context specific."
Cattle, sheep and wildlife perished in the unprecedented two-week rains, which left swathes of the state under water.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told parliament today the livestock's rotting carcasses posed a high risk of botulism and Q fever to clean-up crews and water supplies in flooded communities.
Even cattle that survived the horrific two weeks but are stranded in floodwaters may still die as the dead animals surrounding them contaminate the water they should be drinking.
Ms Palaszczuk urged anyone coming into contact with dead livestock to heed warnings from health officials by covering their hands and feet.
The cattle stations surrounding Julia Creek, Cloncurry and Mount Isa were the hardest hit farming regions with every farmer estimating at least 50 per cent stock losses.
Farmers with a quarter of their animals left are calling themselves "lucky".
"People out here don't mind flood damage to the roads and fences when we get the benefits of good rain. The stock losses are what hurt us the most," Julia Creek grazier Nigel Simmons told news.com.au.
"We will have a lot of road damage, and fences to fix due to flooding. But I'm lucky to have a big family for support. They will come out to help when the roads are dry enough.
"We are a bit of a proud and tough bunch, and many of us certainly don't look for hand-outs. We just battle on and get the job done."
Mr Simmons estimates he has lost close to 75 per cent of his cattle.
But it's not the bodies lying in swampy paddocks or the plague of vermin that may come to feed on the dead livestock that concerns graziers the most.
It's the massive financial impact many flooded farmers are likely to be hit with after an unprecedented two-week weather event dumped more than a year's rain.
Farmers have told of having nothing left to borrow against to get back on their feet, and the full financial impact many flooded farmers are likely to be hit with remains unknown.
On Eddington Station, near Julia Creek, where about 2000 cattle died, Rachael Anderson said the loss of so many animals would affect the station's ability to survive.
"We (won't be able to) get loans because we've got nothing to borrow against, none of us have got anything left," she told the AAP.
"I can provide for my family right now. But in six months' time or when the bank comes for their repayment, I don't know what I'm going to do."
The rotten stench has well and truly set in on Ms Anderson's station, but what farmers will do with their dead livestock is still being worked out.
"There are feral pigs that will come and eat that, there are feral cats that will come and eat that, and there will probably be a plague of them after this," she said.
The financial hit to farmers in the state's northwest and the industry more broadly may not be known for weeks but it's expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars.
Some rural properties remain underwater, making it hard for those graziers to get feed to their surviving animals.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told parliament yesterday he would ensure a recovery and restoration plan that would restore north Queensland cattle farmers to prosperity.
- with AAP